Deficit Difficulty Digs into Middle Class Students’ Pockets

The current budget for 2009-10 displayed by the California state government projects a deficit of $14.8 billion in the current year of 2009-10, with the possibility of a two-year deficit of approximately $41.6 billion if measures are not taken. In an effort to keep the state deficit as low as possible, UC funding has been cut, leaving the system with a $450 million deficit divide among its 10 campuses, amounting to about 10 percent of the budget cuts.

In addition, UC Irvine has decided to cut the incoming freshman class by 550 students, one of the highest cuts in the six UC campuses cutting enrollment according to the UC Office of the President. The Highlander, UC Riverside’s student newspaper, reported a drop of 453 freshmen in enrollment for the 2009-10 year; UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara are also facing enrollment cuts.

According to Student Regent D’Artagnan Scorza, these admission cuts are not primarily intended to help lower the budget, but compensate for the program cuts being made.

“I don’t think that we’re losing money by admitting these students,” Scorza said, “but we need to understand what the impact of admitting these students is — bigger classes, less faculty, impacted courses, those types of things.”

Although the university is accepting fewer students, tuition will continue to rise. Scorza predicts that tuition may rise by as much as 9.7 percent next year. Although tuition may increase, the UC system insists that it will continue to have an aggressive financial aid program.

“I get around $4000 per quarter from financial aid which definitely helps me out,” said first year aerospace engineering major Jon Shubin. “I think that the financial aid program for UC is strong but it really just depends on what they do. If I did not get financial aid, I probably could not even afford to [attend UCI].”

Yet, Scorza said that students who won’t benefit from financial aid will be the most affected by the fee increases.

“I think that students in middle class families are actually going to be hurting the most,” Scorza said, “because the career markets are tightened, the aid levels are not high enough to meet their needs because their income is too high to receive financial aid but too low to afford to attend.”

Although the middle class is genuinely in need without the assistance of financial aid, there is little the UC can do to help them at this point in time. While keeping tuition low would allow more students to afford the school, it would completely ignore the budget crisis and increase the deficit.

“I think that the tuition increase is more of a looming threat to me,” said Daniil Medvedev, a first year biological sciences major. “I do not get anything from financial aid because I am middle class, but my parents work for a pharmaceutical company that is affected by the recession. If they get laid off, I cannot afford tuition but I am still in the middle class bracket.”

While students gripe over the large increase in tuition, other publications have also observed the addition of three new executives: Gary Falle, UC associate vice president for federal governmental relations, Peter Taylor, UC executive vice president and chief financial officer and Daniel Dooley, UC senior vice president for external relations. The three appointments will cost the UC approximately $1,040,000 according to The Orange County Register.

Scorza defends these new hires by saying that the positions “needed to be filled.” According to the student regent, the current UC budget officer had also been operating as the chief financial officer for two years, but in order to address the budget crisis they needed someone to handle each job full-time.

Also, Scorza maintains that the three administrators were hired under a low-market setting and are actually being paid less than they are worth.

“The chief financial officer would typically receive almost double than what he is getting paid now,” Scorza said.

The majority of the major cuts being made are administrative. UCI has introduced a campus-wide hiring staff freeze, and decreased travel expenses and utility costs. However, Scorza said that the cuts that will affect students the most are the faculty, program and student services lowered funding.

Construction on the 63,700-square-foot arts building has been suspended to also consolidate money, and campus staff members are being encouraged to enroll in the Staff and Academic Reduction in Time program (START). START will grant “eligible employees an opportunity to voluntarily reduce their working time and corresponding pay” for service credit as well as vacation and sick leave at the employees’ pre-START rates.

Despite efforts to keep the deficit at bay, Scorza stated that the regents are uncertain whether tuition will continue to grow in the future.

“There is no way to tell whether fees will continue to rise,” Scorza said. “To be honest with you, I’m not sure. Let’s hope that they don’t.”